“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
A generation ago, particularly around the time of the Billy Graham Crusades, people seemed to have a greater awareness of God’s holiness and their own sin.
Perhaps it had something to do with some of the forms that we used in church. In the early 1970s we still used the 1662 Prayer Book. At Communion we would recite this confession: “Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men. We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed by thought, word and deed, against your divine majesty, provoking most justly your wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for all our misdoings. The memory of them is grievous to us, the burden intolerable.” These words remind us that true Christians realise that the law condemns our sin but the Gospel offers us the hope of pardon.
Now fast forward to today and ask: is this the kind of language that Christians believe we should use in describing our relationship with God? Many Christians are not sure. They would think it odd, even morbid, to be overwhelmed in the presence of God with a sense of sin. In the modern world, we find it hard to talk about our sin; we find it much easier to talk about pain and brokenness. We are much more concerned with our emotions and feelings than a sense of right and wrong. And this explains why we tend to think of God in terms of the One who bathes our wounds, calms our fears, and relieves our insecurities than as our Lord and Judge.
That’s why we need to look carefully at Paul’s response to God’s law. He tells us that he is a ‘prototype’ of how we are meant to approach God and receive His grace. Paul says that the law, when properly understood, reveals our true nature. “The law showed me”, says Paul “that I am a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man.” He says, “Look at the store of person I am. Even though I thought I was the best at keeping the law, the reality was that I was a terrible sinner – all because I rejected Jesus. But I received mercy.”
I wonder if you have that balance in your life? On the one hand, you can never forget that you are a sinner; but on the other, you know that you are now saved and a debtor to God’s mercy and ‘superabounding grace’ through the kindness of Jesus Christ.